Aussie horse industry formally offers levy plan

December 5, 2010

by Laurie Dixon

Australian horse owners appear destined to pay a levy on manufactured feed and wormers should they ever have to repay the government for fighting exotic disease outbreaks.

The horse industry had until December 1 to put a proposal to authorities on becoming a signatory to the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA).

Animal Health Australia provided federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig with a submission on deadline day showing the support of the horse industry to join EADRA through a levy based on manufactured horse feeds and wormer products.

Dr Roger Lavelle, who chairs the Horse Levy Working Group and is president of the Australian Horse Industry Council, said becoming a signatory to EADRA would guarantee that an emergency animal disease affecting horses would be met with a swift and effective response.

The federal government had made it clear that the horse industry could not expect authorities to step up in the event of any future disease incursions, such as the 2007 equine flu outbreak, unless the industry signed up to EADRA.

It also faced the possibility of voluntary equine influenza vaccinations, which was being pushed hard by thoroughbred interests.

"This is an exciting step on the way to legislation and is a great achievement," Lavelle said.

"It is the culmination of many months of hard work and enthusiasm shown by many sectors of the industry with great assistance from Animal Health Australia and the Department of Industry and Innovation New South Wales," he said.

The submission follows on from the findings of the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee that looked into the the horse industry and EADRA.

It found no evidence of opposition to the Australian horse industry signing the EADRA deal, and overwhelming support to sign up to a zero-based levy.

A zero levy means no money will be collected unless there is a response to a disease incursion that needs to be repaid.

Lavelle said he expected the submission to Ludwig would meet the requirements laid out by the the Primary Industries Ministerial Council, which had imposed the December 1 deadline for the industry to come up with an agreed levy mechanism.

Lavelle said the industry needed to work together to ensure the legislation enacting the levy passed successfully through parliament.

Ludwig said sectors of the horse industry had worked constructively to arrive at the united submission.

"The Government will now carefully consider the submission before responding.

"The emergency response agreements that exist between the Australian and state and territory governments and most plant and animal industries are the foundation for national responses to plant and animal pest and disease outbreaks.

"All sectors of an industry benefit from the eradication of an emergency pest or disease.

"Other animal industry groups such as the cattle and sheep sectors have had emergency levy mechanisms in place for a number of years and this has provided them a level of reassurance for disease outbreaks."

Western Australian Senator Dr Chris Back, an equine veterinarian, described the levy proposal agreed to by the horse industy as a landmark agreement.

He said once horse industry representatives signed up, the federal government could immediately co-ordinate a nationwide response in the event that any one of the 22 exotic diseases affecting horses was detected in Australia.

All other animal industry sectors in Australia had signed up to an EADRA equivalent, he noted.

The deal will ensure federal, state and territory government resources can be effectively mobilised in the event of an Australian outbreak of an exotic horse disease, he said.

Under the Australian Constitution, animal disease management is the role of each state and territory.

Back said Australia had a wake-up call with the equine flu outbreak.

"The direct cost of eradicating EI exceeded $A300 million but the true cost in lost earnings, betting taxes, interrupted racing and breeding programmes and cancelled horse events in several states exceeded $A1 billion," he said.

"In fact, the industry is still feeling the effects.

"While EI was highly contagious, it did not kill many horses," he said.

"If we were to get African Horse Sickness or any other insect-borne neurological disease, we could lose tens of thousands of horses before it could be brought under control.

"We have the insect species which is capable of carrying some of these diseases here in Australia."

Glanders, a disease first identified in the third century AD, has recently been diagnosed in the Persian Gulf. Horses have been put down in an attempt to control the disease. The Gulf, he noted, is only 10 hours' flying time from Australia.

Back congratulated Animal Health Australia for its role in co-ordinating meetings of horse industry sectors to explain the implications of signing up to EADRA.

"A hearing held by the Senate committee recently in Canberra, showed there was clear evidence of understanding, goodwill and common purpose across the industry," he said.

The horse industry, in all its aspects - commercial, recreational, performance and breeding - is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, employing in excess of 100,000 people.

The time has arrived for stakeholders to unite, he said.

"By speaking with one voice, the industry will achieve more when dealing with Government".

"Hopefully signing up to the EADRA is the catalyst for all industry sectors to see the benefit of this approach," Back said.